With the 40th anniversary of Dario Argento's legendary ballet school nightmare Suspiria having just passed in 2017, it's only natural that to commemorate the occasion there should be some pomp, circumstance, and of course competing home video releases in different markets around the world. Suspiria has been released on Blu-ray before in several markets, including previously in the UK and Australia from whence today's comparisons originate, but newly minted 4K transfers approved by all and sundry (and in this case Dario Argento, himself), it's a good time to revisit our options.
Notably, this comparison will not include the recent Synapse Films 4K restoration which seems to be regarded as the best A/V presentation of the bunch, but instead will focus on two discs whose transfers are almost identical.
For those of you who may have heard of the film, but not necessarily seen it, Suspiria is the story of a young girl named Suzy (played by a young Jessica Harper, fresh off of Brian DePalma's rock 'n roll nightmare, Phantom of the Paradise), who arrives at a prestigious ballet school in the German forest just in time for a murder. Strange goings-on have always been a part of the dance academy, but they seem to be ramping up lately, and their origins are looking more and mroe odd by the minute. The film moves from tense moment to tenser moment over the course of 98 excruciatngly art-directed minutes as the truth, confusing and nonsensical as it may be, slowly becomes apparent to Suzy.
A masterpiece of style becoming substance, Suspiria remains one of the most invigorating horror experiences of the '70s. Written by Daria Nicolodi, star of several Argento films, the film deals with not only witchcraft and the supernatural, but also the fears of growing up and growing old. As the adolescent students in the academy begin to come into their own sexually, so does their world begin to fracture. It is worth noting that almost all of the primary cast in the film is female, with Harper in the lead and Hollywood star Joan Bennett holding down the fort as the school's headmistress among a deep pool of talented performers only occasionally intruded upon by either effeminate working men or baffled police inspectors attempting to rationalize the fantastic.
Both the Cult Films Blu-ray from the UK and the Umbrella Entertainment disc from Australia utilize the recent TLEFilms 4K restoration supervised and approved by Argento. The image on both of these discs is pretty much identical, and quite beautiful. Detail is greatly improved upon from previous releases, and Argento's vibrant color palatte looks wonderful. The image is stable, almost completely damage free, and tack sharp. There is a good amount of debate regarding the appearance of Synapse's disc - supervised by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli - and from what I've seen they are markedly different with Synapse's disc boasting a different palatte for sure, but the job done for these discs is wonderful, and definitely no slouch. If you're locked to a Region B release, it doesn't necessarily mean you're out of luck.
For analysis of the pros and cons of each release, check out the gallery below.
Cult Films in the UK released Suspiria in December, very close to the release dates for the other 40th anniversary editions. In terms of the A/V quality, the image is identical to Umbrella's disc, as is the newly remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track which handles Suspiria's complex sounds design and iconic score respectably.
In terms of extras, Cult Films has recycled several supplements that appeared previously on an older edition of Suspiria released by Cine-Excess and added a couple of new pieces that are well worth checking out. First up on the recycled front is a wonderful audio commentary from Alan Jones, author of Dario Argento: The Man, the Myths & the Magic and horror specialist and critic Kim Newman. This pair have a good rapport that translates well, and between them they are able to share a wealth of not only scholarly information about the film and its production, but also anecdotal experiences that help keep the track lively. Up next is another recycled piece called Suspiria Perspectives, in which scholar Patricia McCormack does a wonderful job of not only examining why Suspiria works so well, but also contextualizing it in Italian culture, also featured in the piece are director David J Warren and composer Claudio Simonetti who share their thoughts and experiences of the film and why it continues to frighten us. An extension of this featurette is Fear at 400 Degrees, an exploration of the Suspiria’s visual palette and the careful attention to detail that colors each frame of the film. McCormack, Warren, and Simonetti return for the featurette and are joined by Argento, Kim Newman, Xavier Mendik and others.
New to this disc are a pair of extras that are really worth your time. First up is a recent interview with Argento by Variety’s Nick Vivarelli. This is a wide ranging interview that covers a lot of material and in which Argento is able to add additional perspective to his creation. Vivarelli questions in English and Argento responds in Italian, the interview is subtitled when necessary. The other extra is an exclusive, hour-long exploration of the restoration process with tons of commentary and examples. While this is very interesting, it can be a bit dry as it’s pretty much all clips being repeated over and over again at various stages of restoration. It is certainly enlightening, but might be a bit of a slog for those not super interested in the nuts and bolts of the restoration process. I would’ve enjoyed perhaps something a bit more produced, but this is the only feature that addresses the actual restoration, and for that reason it’s a big “pro” for Cult Films.
Umbrella's Australian local release of Suspiria features the same A/V specifications as the Cult Films disc, making a technical comparison mostly a wash, though Umbrella doesn't include the LPCM Stereo audio downmixes present on the UK release. Whether that's of any interest is completely up to you.
The real difference come in the area of supplemental materials, in which there is quite a bit of overlap, and each release has a few pieces that are exclusive. In terms of overlap, both discs include the Fear at 400 Degrees archival featurette described in the Cult Films section, as well as the 2017 interview with Nick Vivarelli. Where Umbrella's disc excels is the massive quantity of archival material presented that isn't on the Cult Films release. There are a pair of Dario Argento documentaries previously available on DVD, An Eye for Horror and Dario Argento's World of Horror, both of which have been available separately for years, and both of which are getting a bit long in the tooth but still significant in the world of Argento scholarship. There is an exclusive interview from 2004 in which Argento discusses the film in a roughly 20 minute piece that covers a lot of territory in a relatively short time. The last major video extra is a 25th anniversary documentary from Blue Underground's 2004 DVD special edition that runs nearly an hour with lots of conversation from Argento, Nicolodi, Simonetti, Harper, and pretty much every living major cast or crew member of note. It's a great piece and it is wonderful to have it all in one place. Umbrella caps it off with a trailer reel of Argento's films that runs about 42 minutes.
Unfortunately, Umbrella doesn't feature any audio commentary and it is also missing the restoration featurette, but the wealth of archival material on the disc makes it a solid purchase anyway. It's not easy to pick an outright winner, but I'd say whichever release is more affordable in your region is sure to make the average buyer a happy camper. I'm happy to have both, and more obsessive fans like myself will likely choose that route as well.